Everything you need to know about shrubs (aka, drinking vinegar).
Admittedly, the term shrub is up there with things such as buckles and grunts as far as weird names for delicious, fruit-based foods go, so let’s get a couple of things over with and out of your system right now: Doubtlessly the word shrub primarily conjures a squat, leafy bush and has you feeling a little Monty, so…“Bring me a…shrubbery!” Okay, that was the first thing. And yes, once you learn of them you might very well wish someone to bring you one; a fair demand.
Second, while TLC’s musical musings of the late 1990s might have rightfully suggested saying no to scrubs, with their overblown expectations and underwhelming personas, you’re going to want to go ahead and say yes to shrubs for the very opposite reasons. A shrub is a drink that can get some love from me. And now that both of those references are out of the way…
What Is a Shrub?
It’s certainly more than just a small woody plant. Like jams, jellies, and pickles, shrubs are products designed for preserving fruits and even some vegetables beyond their shelf lives where they are transformed into a sweet and sour syrup.
This syrup can also be referred to as drinking vinegar, which perhaps explains why even a title as odd as “shrub” is preferable to that alternative, though “acidulated beverage” kind of sounds cool and a little goth. You don’t need to employ any wizardry to make them, though. Both sugar and vinegar act as preservatives in shrub recipes, and also as agents to macerate the natural sugars and acids out of the fruits themselves.
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If you're already intrigued by this article, get deep into the mystery of shrubs with the bible on the subject.
What Do I Do With a Shrub?
They’re not just for creating an attractive hedgerow to line the sidewalk. The result of this maceration and acidulation process is a vibrant and tart fruit cordial that can be easily mixed with sparkling water for a soft, pick-me-up tonic or mocktail, or applied in any other manner befitting a syrup: ice cream, pancakes, etc.
And if you’re feeling less in need of a pick-me-up, and more of a need to get turnt-up, shrubs are particularly excellent in actual cocktail construction for providing both sweet and tart elements in one neat component to balance potent libations from gin to bourbon.
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Make your own, or take these home, either way you're going to want to get some shrubs in your life.
How Do I Make Shrubs?
Seeds and dirt are both involved, but you can leave those early steps to the farmers and maybe start with the produce itself. Berries, orchard fruits, melons, and even citrus make excellent shrubs. So do cucumbers, pumpkins, and tomatoes. Herbs and spices are more than welcome to play along as supporting castmates.
An easy shrub ratio is one pound of cut fruit, with one cup of sugar and one cup of vinegar. Apple cider is a good go-to acid, but red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, even balsamic vinegar can produce favorable outcomes depending on the nuance of flavor you hope to achieve, whether bright and linear or dark and complex.
Marinate for three to four days in the fridge, strain, and that’s it!
Along with the late produce harvest, we’ve reaped eight shrub recipes below to demonstrate the range of this humble, oddly-named fruit treat.
While summer fruits are still hanging on to the last of their glory days this season, a shrub is a lovely way to pay homage to those slightly bruised or overripe peaches. Enjoy a cooler on an especially warm late summer day with a splash of soda or tonic, or pair with a porch, a sunset, and perhaps a little bourbon wouldn’t hurt. Get our Peach Shrub recipe.
Or if you’ve already busted out the sweaters and are fully leaning in to fall, a fall-forward shrub such as this apple cranberry number will echo the crispness in the air and welcome you as gently as a pile of freshly-raked leaves. Get our Cranberry Apple Shrub recipe.
Here’s an especially zesty approach to shrubbery, when an already tart fruit meets a little added acidulation. The resulting syrup will surely put pep in your step, or in your chamomile tea. Get the Grapefruit Shrub recipe.
Shrubs aren’t only for fresh fruits—the process can also be applied to frozen, and berries are especially ripe for such a treatment. (Pun intended.) Get the Raspberry Shrub recipe.
Pears are another darling of fall, made all the more rich and interesting with the addition of pungent vanilla and warm cardamom. I dare say the occasion of such a marriage of flavor calls for a little bubbly, even. Get the Pear Shrub with Vanilla and Cardamom recipe.
This shrub combo is almost a cocktail unto itself! With tropical notes, spice, and an herbal backbone, all you need is blank-slate vodka to take it from mocktail to rocktail. Get the Pineapple Ginger Mint Shrub recipe.
Up the ante on your glass of water with more pizzazz than a few friendly slices of cucumber can accomplish. Or for other adventures in clean-tasting beverages, cucumber martini, anyone? Get the Cucumber Shrub recipe.
Oh, you knew you weren’t getting out of this article about fall beverages without a pumpkin spice reference, right? Get the Pumpkin Shrub recipe.
Header image courtesy of Chowhound.